H.R. 3189 passes the US House of Representatives

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that prohibits the transfer of private water rights to the federal government as a permit condition passed the U.S. House on Thursday. The bill was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., with support from U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. The Water Rights Protection Act, HR3189, passed 238-174, with 12 Democrats joining Republicans in an otherwise party-line vote. It is awaiting action by the Senate and could face a veto from President Barack Obama,

The bill is in response to U.S. Forest Service contracts with Colorado ski areas that required transfers of water rights as a condition. State water users feared the federal government would apply the same conditions to grazing contracts as well.

The bill protects Colorado water rights from federal encroachment.

The bill had widespread support from conservancy and conservation districts in both the Arkansas River and Rio Grande basins, as well as from numerous Western Slope groups.

“Water is the lifeblood of the Western United States and all water users including grazers, ski areas, businesses, tribes and municipalities need certainty that all federal land management agencies, not just the Forest Service, are prohibited from future attempts to take privately held water rights,” Tipton said.

“Water is everything to communities in Colorado,” Gardner said. “Our farmers and ranchers, our commerce, and our towns and municipalities can only thrive when there is certainty that they will have access to water.

From American Rivers (Matt Niemerski):

The House of Representatives voted today to approve a bill that could dry up countless stretches of rivers and harm river restoration efforts nationwide. H.R. 3189 – the so-called “Water Rights Protection Act” – passed by a 238-174 vote.

This bill is terrible news for rivers nationwide. It puts the interests of the oil and gas industry, corporate agriculture, and other private interests over the health of our rivers, fish and wildlife, and the millions of Americans who fish, boat, and enjoy river recreation. It is ultimately a broad swipe at federal natural resource agencies’ authority to protect public lands and recreation.

The bill, pushed by the National Ski Areas Association and Aspen’s SkiCo, as well as the Farm Bureau, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Colorado Petroleum Association, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, would strip away critical safeguards for rivers, fish and wildlife.

The bill was originally introduced to address a specific conflict between Colorado’s ski industry and the U.S. Forest Service. Even though the Forest Service has already acted to address the ski industry’s issue, the bill became a vehicle for the oil and gas industry, corporate agriculture, and other industries, putting their interests ahead of the public’s interest in healthy rivers and recreation.

This bill was so badly written, that in a last ditch effort to try to bring some sanity to the legislative process, House Democrats offered an amendment that would, at the very least, allow federal agencies to protect rivers enough to guarantee recreation jobs, fire suppression, and communities threatened by drought. But apparently those restrictions did not work for the ski industry, the CAFO operators, and the hydrofrackers. So their supporters in the House voted no.

In a rare and almost unprecedented move, Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) took a bold step to protect rivers in Colorado and across the nation by removing his support for a bill of which he was an original sponsor. Rep. Polis introduced an amendment that would rectify the flaws in the bill by narrowing it to address the ski areas’ original concerns, but that was ultimately rejected by the House. Congressman Polis went down to the floor of the House to oppose the bill and offer a passionate defense for rivers and the outdoor recreation economy.

River advocates spoke up, and Congressman Polis listened. We should all applaud Congressman Polis for having the courage to stand up and do what is right. Jared Polis is a true champion for healthy rivers, and for everybody who fishes, boats, and enjoys the outdoors and he called this bill out for what it truly is: a job killing water grab. His leadership sets a great example, and we hope his colleagues follow this example in the future.Additionally Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Rep. Peter Defazio (D-OR), Rep Jared Huffman (D-CA), Rep Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH) all engaged the fight on behalf of the America’s rivers on the floor of the House to fight a bill which Rep. DeFazio described as “just another attempt to undermine critical environmental protections and target federal agencies that manage our public lands for future generations.” They deserve our thanks.

Most importantly I thank you, our friends who care deeply about our nations rivers. Although this bill passed the House, your voice was heard. Passing legislation like this comes with a price for its supporters, and it took the full weight of some of the nation’s most powerful interests to get it through the House. River advocates and our allies in Congress landed the blows needed slow this legislation down.

Even though the President declared his strong opposition to the bill, the ski industry and their polluter allies don’t appear to be giving up. Well, neither will we.

The bill is now in the Senate’s hands, and we have to keep the pressure on. American Rivers and our partners across the country will continue to stand against this bill and we urge the Senate to oppose this sweeping attack on our rivers. But we are only as strong as our supporters. River advocates must also stand firm and keep the pressure on the National Ski Areas Association to break with big polluters like the hydrofrackers and the CAFOs, and instead work on a solution that addresses their concerns.

More water law coverage here.

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